Social by design

Board games are social games by design. If you think about it, you are sitting around the table, playing a game together. If the game has collaborative elements in it, you need to work together to make them happen. If the game has competitive elements in it, you have the game banter of you having to pay out to your sibling who happens to always own a hotel on the most expensive street in Monopoly for example. It is hard not to have conversations when you play a board game. They may be strictly game related, but you are communicating.

In a digital game, having conversations with fellow players is not always part of the game. Multi-player online games have the team aspect and battling together at their core and they require communication. E-sports leagues can show you some of that for the team games. A lot of digital games you can play in the first person on your own against another player or against the computer. A lot of casual games such as Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Sudoku, Crosswords, etc are just you playing to move up or complete the challenge.

In gamification projects, we are often asked to make something social by design. If we think of this in the context of a learning-related gamification project, imagine a group of learners taking the same course together and having a place in the course platform to discuss the subject with peers, ask questions, complete team tasks together or even conduct peer reviews on training provided. The challenge is to have this work when people can start in their own time. I have been a trainer with a tumbleweed environment in online groups (as in nothing happens and you can what grass grow) and equally a student in groups that were very happening and interactive.

So what makes the social aspects work? First of all, starting together at the same date will stack the odds in your favour to have a happening alive community feel in your online groups. When you can’t have everyone start together, then the engagement into social is weighted up-front in the onboarding process. The first steps on the learning platform should include a social sharing step or an asking questions steps or even a 30-day or 5-day challenge. Trainer or expert access is typically relevant to sustain engagement. Peer only groups will otherwise lose momentum over time unless someone takes leadership and drives them forward.

Social game elements include group activities, team quests, sharing, asking and answering questions, peer feedback, voting, etc.

The key is to have a common goal and reason for people to do something together. The doing something together needs to have meaning and purpose. For example in on-boarding having a group of new hires discover how to find their way through the means of a team treasure hunt on your work campus with clues, gives a clear purpose and an inherent need to work together.

Creating a blend of technology and real life also works well, from group sessions in person, even online at a specific date and then having the back channel group to ask more questions in works well when you have some active people contributing. I am part of a number of online coaching and professional development groups. In one we have a monthly call, an occasional meetup in person which is purely social and then the main online membership hub. In another we have a daily web-call with a live chat function on the side, often the live chat is as much fun as the content discussed on the web-call and a slack channel with different topical threads. Both work, because the driving forces behind them are active in each channel. Feedback is sought and given. Accountability is there if you want it, but the people attracted to this type of media are social minded or topic curious with a need to discuss it with peers or experts.

When you have an offering where a multitude of courses is being pulled together from different angles, different authors, or corporate materials, creating a sense of community is harder. As soon as performance is attached, competitors take part or the job is attached to the social aspects, people’s barriers come up. I ran a course around work-life balance for lawyers at one point and nobody was engaged because this was not my usual way of working, I questioned the group and asked them why everyone had their poker face on. One brave woman answered and said, we are all competitors and being good lawyers we don’t want to show our weak sides, such as lack of work-life balance for example. It made everyone laugh and I agreed that we would treat what came out of our discussions confidentially and with respect and we managed to have very lively and engaged discussions after that. In a work environment, the fact that your boss and teammates are potentially lurking in the same groups and forums as you may make you refrain from asking that burning question out of fear of sounding stupid. This, in my view, is a facilitator issue as well as a cultural one. In a learning culture, even the CEO should be allowed and encouraged to ask stupid questions and maybe even take the lead role in this.

When you want to instil social by design in a digital setting, it will take more than game mechanics or the system to make it work. An effort by people, joint meaning and purpose and where possible a timed starting point helps to stack the odds in your favour. You may need to keep tweaking it a few times before you find a happy medium.


Why platforms will tell you, you don’t need a consultant

In the gamification world, an ever growing amount of platforms exist that can provide game elements to existing applications. A lot of them will tell you that a consultant on top of the fee of their platform is not required. When this is suggested, my question would be “who in your organisation understands the motivation of the end-users you are targeting, so you can configure the platform to motivate them accordingly?” and “does the platform provide this expertise?”. The add-on question for a platform if they do bring in that expertise, is “how much will their features drive the design instead of your outcome requirements?”

In the majority of cases, they will just install everything so you have a working platform but then it is over to you to apply the game elements as you see fit or they will just sell you the default settings with a little bit of tailoring to suit your business. I can tell you from experience, that if this is the case… then about 6 months from the installation you will either decide to turn the platform off or hire the consultant retrospectively to fix the fact that nobody is responding to the game elements and finds them annoying as opposed to motivating. Oh, and that is if you have budget left by then.

From the platforms’ perspective, they will tell you they have just as much expertise in-house as any consultant. I would suggest that unless they ask you serious questions regarding your business objectives, work through clarifying how you would measure success in your objectives, you are potentially left with a high risk of the project not delivering on any of it.

I am a big believer in understanding the target audience and I feel this is where most platform providers avoid going altogether. My question to you as a buyer is, how will you know what motivates your people and what game elements will work well? If the platform doesn’t facilitate this discussion or research, then you again increase the risk of becoming a failure statistic in the 80% that Gartner predicted to fail due to bad design. Motivation is closely linked to the culture of an organisation and the working styles within, a one size fits all approach which an out of the box standard solution will give you may not be the most useful for your company.

The biggest reason why they want you to drop the consultant is so they can start charging you sooner and potentially keep more for themselves because obviously having consultants work on a project where they promote research into objectives, success measures and target audience profiling will slow down their implementation. Often the salesperson is on a commission to close a deal in a specific quarter and bring in the revenue, and it wouldn’t be the first time it has lead to unscrupulous tactics to close the deal. They will promise you anything to just close and then when you need support for when it isn’t working, their phone is no longer working for you.

In my view, and yes I have a vested interest in saying so, my recommendation would be to bring a person that is independent of the platform and that will ask the questions to enable you a great outcome. We often work platform agnostic, unless a platform requests us to be their partner in the process in which case we look for the best design based on the platform capabilities and the company requirements. For us, the company requirements come first, because we know that is how to obtain the best results. Depending on the results required we may advise buying one platform over another.

We also will advise our client whether gamification is the right solution or not. Sometimes a process improvement is enough or a people change. For example for one multinational client, having an advanced search ability was more important than gamification and it required a better data architecture and structured meta tagging for it to work more optimally. Gamification could help with the tagging, but the architecture was still the necessary first step.

If you don’t have the in-house expertise around gamification design, my advice is to bring in an external consultant independent from your platform to help you achieve the outcomes you are after. At the end of the day, the platform just wants to install it and charge a license fee and where possible do very little else. Your outcome is not always a priority, so you need to drive that agenda and make sure you have outcome delivery into your agreement and support iterations if it isn’t working the first time.

Of course, there are platforms on the market that will bring in consultants and have great practices around identifying your needs and understanding the people within your target audience. But if you don’t receive any questions regarding outcomes and user profiling, I urge you to beware of buying with your eyes wide open or you could make a very costly investment without the results you hoped for.

Why platforms will tell you, you don’t need a consultant

First posted on Gamification Nation Gamification Nation – Experts in gamification for learning and HR

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Where in the employee lifecycle can gamification assist?

Since 2013, I have been using the employee lifecycle as a way of describing where the meaningful touchpoints can be where gamification can potentially make a difference. Notice the very hypothetical language used, gamification may not be the most appropriate solution in some of these processes. On occasion the tweaking or fixing of the process is what is needed. Typically the employee experience touchpoints are explained with this specific slide (if you are going to use this slide or a variation of it, please leave the attribution in):

The way I see it, building a compelling employee experience starts well before the person walks through your doors as a new employee. In today’s world, people are learning about your brand and organisation all of the time, from social media to advertising to their own social network are ways of gaining important information. This information will then shape their opinion on whether your company is an attractive place to work at or not. Creative plays on employer branding have been around in the gamification world for some time. When we meet in person we can discuss those more.

The recruitment and assessment process are two more areas where gamification can play a role. Our opinions on an organisation can be swayed significantly depending on how we are treated in the recruitment process. A great interview process with feedback and fun assessments with good insights can be what a candidate needs. The opposite holds true too. I remember one organisation a long time ago asking me to take what felt like 6 hours of online tests, by the time I had finished the last time, I no longer wanted to work there. Equally, sometimes a great interview and then no further feedback at all, sends a clear message on how they felt about you as a candidate.

Once the person joins, you want an on-boarding process, often both for the hiring manager and the new employee. There are some project examples we have worked on and some great brands that have been quite innovative in their approach to gamifying on-boarding from self-managed quests to treasure hunts.  Productivity and performance management are best served with instant feedback, gamified solutions in this space have been popping up in several places. Some include elements of employee well-being and in our experience, a fun well-being campaign can also positively impact the bottom line, team spirit and productivity.

The elusive trio of job mastery, job enrichment and job rotation are derived from job design theories from Hersey and Blanchard, which can impact the levels of motivation individuals experience in their job by the very design of their role (more on this another time). Basically, the way a job is designed and tweaking it as a person evolves in skills and experience level may result in new levels of enthusiasm for the job itself. In some organisations, promotion is an option, in others due to their flat structure elements of job design may be more appropriate. In any case, all four options allow you to create a level up experience.

Exit strategies for employees moving on to either other organisations, allow for feedback back into the organisation as well as community building of an alumni network. Some organisations have even been very strategic about where they placed and note the word placed employees that wanted to move on. They actively assisted employees in finding suitable positions in new organisations. Guess where their loyalty goes?

Note that each of the touchpoints on the employee lifecycle is, in fact, a process in their own right. This gives an important clue as to where gamification is most relevant. It also shows an obvious hint that it is not the person we gamify, but rather the process.

I would love the opportunity to delve deeper into all of these points, so feel free to ask me to speak at your event, consult me on how this can be applied in your organisation and maybe train your people into good practice around employee engagement and the use of gamification.